News Sports Editor
A constant rain throughout the day made conditions miserable for the six teams that competed in the Alpena Invitational soccer tournament on Saturday.
Ryan Fitch (16) passes as a defender charges him during a soccer match Saturday at the Crittenden Soccer Complex.
But Alpena was rewarded when it won the tournament at the Crittenden Soccer Complex.
The Wildcats (7-2-2) opened the invitational with a pair of shutout wins over Sault Ste. Marie (3-0) and Elkton Pigeon Bayport (5-0), then captured the title with a 2-1 win over defending tournament champion Temperance-Bedford in the championship matchup.
"Today we benefited from a couple of breaks, but breaks are sometimes the residual of hard work," said Alpena head coach Randy Stark. "The conditions were difficult, but the kids played extremely hard. Ryan Fitch was instrumental in getting us to the championship game. Devin Kendziorski played extremely well and Jared Kendziorski was our jack-of-all-trades."
Poor weather wasn't the only adversity Alpena had to overcome in the championship game. The Wildcats played short-handed as senior captain Paul Przewozniak missed the game after feeling ill and going home. Sophomore Alex Doubek, who was still recovering from being sick, only played sparingly throughout the day, while senior co-captain Isaac Mead was injured in a collision with teammate Marshall Bailey and missed the end of the final game. Senior Dino Pizzino also missed a portion of the Bedford game after being issued a yellow card.
But Alpena was able to overcome those losses, jumping out to a 2-0 lead early in the first half on goals from Devin Kendziorski and Mead, then holding onto a one-goal advantage throughout a tense second half thanks to a huge goaltending performance from sophomore Ben Gould.
"Even though we were down one of our captains, and had another one hurt, we still pulled through," said Gould. "It meant a lot to us (to win the tournament)."
Bedford scored late in the first half to trim the Wildcats' lead to 2-1, and was relentless in its attack over the final 30 minutes in trying to tie up the game. But Gould was up to the challenge thwarting the Kicking Mules' chances with some big-time saves in a pressure situation.
"You've just got to stay strong and hope the defense doesn't fall apart," said Gould, who shared net minding duties with Garrett Mead early in the tournament. "I was confident all day. You've got to hand it to the defense. They did a really good job. It was not a one-man effort."
Stark also was impressed with the play of his young keepers.
"I have confidence in both goalies," he said. "Ben played well. He came up big. I was really happy with his distribution of the ball. It was so much better today."
Alpena's strategy with a 2-1 lead was to sit back and play strong defense against the Mules and send long balls back into their side of the field, killing time as they chased them down.
"We knew if we attacked that was going to open doors we didn't want to open," said Stark. "We were playing to get out of here with a 2-1 win."
Alpena opened the tournament with a convincing victory over Sault Ste. Marie - Alpena's second over the Blue Devils this year. Isaac Mead, Tyler Eller and Devin Kendziorski had Alpena's goals.
The Wildcats were even more dominant in the second game against Elkton Pigeon Bayport. Devin Kendziorski scored on an indirect kick late in the first half, and the Wildcats blew the game open with a four-goal second half. Isaac Mead, Przewozniak, Pizzino and Eller had those second-half scores.
The Wildcats return to action on Tuesday when they host Traverse City West in a vital Big North Conference matchup.